Chimichurri Aioli Recipe and the Gut Health Benefits of Olive Oil
There’s been a lot of research in recent years showing the relationship of gut health with overall health. The gut is thought to be as powerful a system as the brain—it’s sometimes called the second brain! Based on the level of diversity in its bacteria (called the gut microbiota), your gut can make you more or less susceptible to conditions like diabetes and heart disease. So, I was super excited to read about the ways in which extra virgin olive oil can enhance gut microbiota diversity.
The Gut Health Benefits of Olive Oil
Research Review: “Extra-virgin olive oil and the gut-brain axis: influence on gut microbiota, mucosal immunity, and cardiometabolic and cognitive health,” Nutrition Reviews, December 2021.
What We Know: Extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) is considered a functional food because it supports many aspects of health. It has a wide variety of healthful components, including monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs, and bioactive phenolic compounds that, as the review reminds us, “individually and collectively, exert beneficial effects on cardiometabolic markers of health and act as neuroprotective agents through their anti-inflammatory and antioxidant activities.” Simply put, those compounds boost heart, brain, and metabolic health in numerous ways.
The Benefits of Olive Oil in a Nutshell: Extra virgin olive oil boosts gut microbiota diversity, enhancing health while lowering inflammation, oxidative stress, insulin resistance, blood fats, blood sugar, and blood pressure.
The review goes on to state that “the gut microbiota and health of the intestinal environment are now considered important factors in the development of obesity, metabolic disease, and even certain neurodegenerative conditions via the gut-brain axis. Recently, data are emerging which demonstrate that the health-promoting benefits of EVOO may also extend to the gut microbiota.”
For their review, the authors analyzed many recent studies on EVOO and the gut and found that EVOO reduces the abundance of bad bacteria, stimulates the growth of good bacteria, and increases the production of short-chain fatty acids, or SCFAs, which have a wide range of anti-inflammatory effects.
They also found that EVOO plays a role in the health of the intestinal mucosa, the mucous layer lining the digestive system (it’s actually part of the body’s immune system and acts as a protective barrier to invaders). The health of the intestinal mucosa seems to influence the body’s overall level of inflammation, and inflammation is at the root of many heart, metabolic, and brain diseases. As the review authors point out, “Western-style diets, low in dietary fiber and high in high pro-inflammatory fats, are associated with gut dysbiosis, increased gut permeability, systemic inflammation, and a variety of chronic diseases. Conversely, healthier dietary patterns like the Mediterranean diet, which is rich in dietary fiber, beneficial fatty acids, and polyphenolic compounds, are associated with greater gut microbial diversity, increased abundance of beneficial bacteria, and reduced levels of inflammation and risk of chronic diseases.”
Among the many studies cited in the review is one on the effects of a Mediterranean diet on the gut microbiota of 612 elderly European participants. The study found that sticking to the diet for over 12 months led to “an increased abundance in several bacteria associated with improved cognition and was inversely associated with pro-inflammatory markers.” In general, people who get EVOO in their diet tend to have high numbers of many types of good bacteria—numbers that tend to be lower in people who eat a typical Western diet.
The researchers also compared the results of many large-scale studies to find the optimal amount of olive oil to have every day for different health benefits. Here’s what they found: “At least 4 tablespoons per day is associated with a 30% lower risk of occurrence of cardiovascular events and improved cognitive function compared with a low-fat diet. In addition to using EVOO in [place] of saturated fats, the European Food Safety Authority also suggests a minimum daily intake of 20 g [about 1.5 tablespoons] of EVOO to assist in obtaining optimal cholesterol levels and protection of LDL [low-density lipoproteins] from oxidative damage. Although evidence in relation to the optimal amount of EVOO required to modulate the gut microbiota is still in its infancy, beneficial effects on the microbiota have been observed in two intervention studies at doses of 40 and 50 g/day (about 3 and 4 tablespoons, respectively).”
- Chimichurri Aioli
This olive-oil based recipe turns chimichurri into an aioli, a highly flavored, garlicky mayonnaise. It’s great as a veggie dip, a condiment, and even a dressing for cold pasta salad.
- 1/4 cup best quality prepared mayonnaise
- 1 clove garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves
- 2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar, such as Vinaigre de Banyuls, plus more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- 1/4 teaspoon coarse salt, or more to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Combine everything except the olive oil in the bowl of a food processor and process until the garlic and herbs are finely chopped.
With the motor running, slowly drizzle the oil through the feed tube until the mixture is smooth.
Taste, adding more vinegar or salt as needed. If the mixture is too thick, add a few drops of water and process for a few seconds. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve.
Yields about a 1/2 cup